The Alphabet Route


Western Maryland Railway



    The origins of the Western Maryland Railway can be traced to May 27, 1852, when a charter was granted by the Maryland assembly to the "Baltimore, Carroll, and Frederick Rail Road Company."  On March 21, 1853, an act was passed by the Maryland General Assembly to change the name to the "Western Maryland Rail Road Company".  Several meetings were held and money raised in the next few years, but no track was laid until July 11, 1857, when ground was broken without ceremony.  The Western Maryland opened for business on August 5, 1859, with passenger service from Calvert Station, MD, to Owings' Mills, MD.  At this time, the Western Maryland owned three wood burning locomotives (Canary, Western Maryland, and Patapsco).  Evidence suggests that the "Canary" was renamed to the "Green Spring" at some point in this time frame.  By 1864, two more locomotives (Pipe Creek and Monocacy) were added.  These were the only 5 named locomotives on the Western Maryland. 

In December 1859, the road was extended to Reisterstown, MD.   Trains operated on a regular schedule twice a day in each direction.  On June 15, 1861, the road was formally opened to Westminster, MD.  Produce was carried as well as passengers.  On November 1, 1862, the railroad was extended to Union Bridge, MD (which would be the western terminus until 1868).  Mail was added to trains.  On Janurary 1, 1863, the contractors, who had exercised complete control over the road from September 1858, turned the operations over to the Western Maryland.  Freight was now being carried in addition to passengers, produce, and mail.  In July 1863, President Lincoln rode the Hanover Junction, Hanover, and Gettysburg Railroad from Hanover Junction to Gettysburg.  The Hanover Junction, Hanover, and Gettysburg Railroad would come under Western Maryland control in 1868 and officially become part of the Western Maryland system in 1917. (Note: President Lincoln took the Northern Central -- future PRR trackage -- from Baltimore to Hanover Junction).


    From 1864 to 1873, funding was raised and the mainline was extended to Williamsport, MD, to join with the C&O canal.  It now was 90 miles in length.  A 1400 foot long terminal was built to handle the railroad-canal business in Williamsport, PA.  Western Maryland's 1873 annual report said it would provide "convenient berths for unloading at one time four boats, or sixteen boats per day carrying 1,800 to 2,000 gross tons of coal, enough to load from thirteen to seventeen trains per day, amounting to 50,000 tons per month, and half a million during the season of canal navigation; this is about two-thirds the present trade of the canal, although scarcely one-third of capacity".  Trains were limited to fifteen iron hopper cars or twelve wooden hopper cars because of the mountain grade.  The canal traffic never resulted in large-scale business for the railroad. 

    On the eastern end, the "Owings Mills division" or "short line" was began in 1871 to extend the railroad to Fulton, MD.  This line opened by October 15, 1873.  At this time, the "Green Spring branch" was returned, by agreement, to its original owner, the Northern Central.  A telegraph line paralleled the tracks for fast communications.  Shops to repair and build equipment were located at Union Bridge, MD.  In 1864, the WM roster contained 4 engines, 3 passenger cars, 2 baggage cars, 19 house cars, 8 four-wheel line cars, 11 eight wheel platform cars, 3 handcars, and 3 track cars.  By 1873, the WM had 12 locomotives, 13 passenger cars, 5 excursion cars, 4 baggage and mail cars, 3 express cars, 75 box cars, 8 stock cars, 59 gondolas, 8 stone hoppers, 1 wreck car, 12 dump cars, 17 handcars, 23 truck cars, and 10 construction cars.  The wood burning locomotives were being replaced by coal burning ones. 


    On March 24, 1874, John Mifflin Hood became president of the Western Maryland - a position he held until 28 years later when he resigned on February 27, 1902.  During Hood's presidency, the Western Maryland trackage grew to 270 miles of steel track, stretching into Pennsylvania and western Maryland.  It connected with the B&O at Cherry Run, WV, and the Philadelphia and Reading at Shippensburg, PA.  New passenger and freight facilities were built in downtown Baltimore and along the rest of the line.  A vacation resort was built in Pen-Mar, PA.  Equipment now included 71 locomotives, 51 passenger coaches, 1 passenger and mail car, 9 passenger and baggage cars, 1 parlor car, 1 mail car, 7 baggage cars, 4 baggage and mail cars, 2 express cars, 281 box cars (plus 99 leased box cars), 11 box cars that were cabin and freight combinations, 5 refrigerator cars, 51 stock cars, 229 gondola cars, 48 gondola cars with hopper bottoms, 20 four wheel cabin cars, 6 flat cars, 6 gondola gravel cars, 8 side-dump cars, 6 wreck cars, 1 derrick cars, 3 tool cars, 18 bunk cars, 54 handcars, 87 truck cars, 26 coal dumps, and 3 snow plows.

    On September 1, 1892, the Western Maryland entered an agreement with the B&O, Reading, Jersey Central, Lehigh & Hudson River, and New Haven for a through freight route called the "Central States Dispatch".  The WM picked up traffic at Cherry Run, WV, from the B&O and delivered it to the Reading at Shippensburg.  The Central States Dispatch lasted until May 1962, when it was replaced with the  "New England Time Savers".

    By 1893, the WM touched York, Hanover, Gettysburg, Waynesboro, Chamberburg, and Shippensburg in Pennsylvania and Cherry Run, West Virginia.  It connected with the B&O at Cherry Run, N&W at Hagerstown, Philadelphia and Reading at Shippensburg,  and the Northern Central at York.  A significant amount of business was generated by these connections.  Hood replaced all wooden bridges with iron ones.  He replaced all the rail with modern steel and replaced the mud roadbed with ballast.  Semaphore signals were installed at the 10 most important train order offices.  An iron turntable was installed at Union Bridge.

    The 1895 annual report reflected that passenger cars were now heated and grab irons installed on all freight cars for safety.  Unfortunately for the WM, all of this cost money and by December 31, 1902, the WM owed over $9,000,000 to the city of Baltimore.  In the summer of 1902, after Hood retired, the city sold its interest in the WM to the Fuller Syndicate (affiliated with the Goulds) for $8,751,370,45.  John Hood died at the age of 63 on December 17, 1906.  The city of Baltimore erected a statue of John Mifflin Hood in 1911 at Baltimore Street and Hopkins Place.


    The "modern era" of the Western Maryland began on May 7, 1902.  In late May, work was begun to extend the line from Walbrook Junction, MD, to Port Covington, MD.  Within a few years, the road was extended from Big Pool, MD, to Cumberland, MD, and to Belington, WV.  By 1912, the Western Maryland built the "new line" to Connellsville, PA, to connect with the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad.  On November 1, 1905, the Fuller syndicate purchased the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway Company which tapped into the bituminous coal regions of West Virginia for $18,082,910.39 and added it to the Western Maryland.  In addition to the railroad, several coal operations were also included in this purchase.

    Port Covington, within sight of downtown Baltimore, covered 190 acres and was opened on September 24, 1904.  It had 75 miles of yard track.  The yards could accommodate 2,000 cars.  Port Covington was reached by a 35 foot channel 400 foot wide and could handle 23 ocean-going vessels at once.  There was a 1,386 foot long coal pier, a grain pier, and a 1,500 foot ore pier.  Also, 4 general merchandise piers equipped with gantry cranes with a 10 ton capacity were present.  Two float barges were operated to Port Covington, two at Sparrow's point, one at Wagner's Point, and one at Cabin Branch.  10 steel car floats were used.

    In the 1906 annual report, the WM listed 540.92 miles of owned/leased trackage.  It had 152 locomotives, 124 passenger units, 5,920 freight and coal cars, 472 pieces of equipment used by the road department, 2 car floats, 3 barges, 1 tug boat,  and 2 schooners.  Rail was upgraded to 90-pound rail.  While doing this replacement, many grades were reduced and tracks realigned to add a second track.  It is also in this time frame that plans were made to move the company shops from Union Bridge to Hagerstown because of the westward expansion.  A larger yard and new shop were planned for Hagerstown.

    The amount owed for this expansion rose to $45,500,000 by the end of 1907 and on March 6, 1908, the Western Maryland went into receivership.  It remained in receivership until January 1, 1910.  The receiver was Benjamin Bush, who was president of the WM before it went into receivership and was elected president again after the company regained control of the road.  Bush began work on the "Connellsville extension" or "new line" in April 1910.  The extension was completed on August 1, 1912, and gave the Western Maryland the shortest route from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, PA, and the lowest grade over the Alleghany mountains.  More importantly, it connected the Western Maryland with the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railway and the New York Central system. Traffic alliances were quickly formed.  In 1931, a connection was also made to the Pittsburgh and West Virgina from the "new line".

    On the Western Maryland, passenger trains are typically thought of as two to four car trains with an RPO/baggage car and one or two coaches. However, from June 15, 1913, to May 27, 1917, the Western Maryland operated four first-class passenger trains from Baltimore to Chicago (two in each direction). These trains were numbered 2, 3, 7, and 8 and ran via the Western Maryland, P&LE, Erie, and NYC and were routed via Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Toledo. The advertised equipment included Pullman observation/cafe cars, sleeping cars, and vestibule coaches. WM equipment would have included the 800-817 coaches, cafe parlor cars 401-404 and some of the newer baggage cars. The 1913 schedule listed all four trains operating via Westminster, but by 1916, two (7 & 8) were shown running via Hanover and the Dutch Line (while the WM main ran through Westminster, MD, the Dutch Line crossed into Pennsylvania and ran through Hanover, PA, and Gettysburg, PA).

    On December 1, 1909, the Western Maryland Railway Company was incorporated and purchased the property of the Western Maryland Rail Road Company under foreclosure proceedings.  Under the Consolidation Agreement of January 23, 1917, the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway Company, the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway Company - eastern extension, the Baltimore and Harrisburg Railway Company - western extension, the Balitmore and Cumberland Valley Railway Company, the Connellsville and State Line Railway Company, and the George's Creek and Cumberland Railroad Company (which had merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad of Maryland) were consolidated with the Western Maryland Railway Company.  On December 17, 1917, the possession, use, control and operation of the Western Maryland was assumed by the government through the Director General of Railroads.  Federal Control lasted until February 28, 1920.  In 1927, the Balitimore and Ohio purchased 42.88% of the Western Maryland stock for $18,673,050.  Following a complaint by the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1928, the B&O transferred its stockholdings in the Western Maryland to a trustee (Chase National Bank of New York).

    On July 7, 1915, the Western Maryland took over the operations of the Williamsport, Nessle, and Martinsburg Railway Company in West Virginia.  This line hauled stone and fruit and provided a connection to the Charlton branch of the Western Maryland.  It was abandoned on June 25, 1937.  The Western Maryland took over the operation of the Somerset Coal Railway Company on September 25, 1915.  This line served two large coal mines around Gray, Pa.  On September 21, 1916, the company began operating the Fairmont Helen's Run Railway Company in West Virginia from Chiefton to Carolina.  On December 17, 1917, the Western Maryland assumed operation of the Faimont Bingamon Railway Company in West Virginia from Hutchinson to Wyatt.  On November 28, 1927, the Western Maryland purchased capital stock and obtained control of the Greenbriar, Cheat and Elk Railroad Company.  This connected to the Durbin branch at Cheat Junction, WV, and ran to Bergoo, WV.  It was expanded in 1929 from Bergoo to Webster Springs, WV, by acquiring the West Virginia Midland Railway Company.  Also in 1929, the Western Maryland purchased the Chaffee Railroad Company which operated a short track and coal tipple.

February 11, 1931, an agreement was reached to compete with the larger railroads that had a direct route from the Midwest to the Northeast (Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central Railroad, and others). It was named the Alphabet Route because the majority of its members went by their initials, which caused an alphabet soup of routing names.  The Alphabet Route consisted of the NKP, W&LE, P&WV, WM, RDG, CNJ, L&HR, and NYNH&H.  In May 1944, the Western Maryland's last major purchase was made -- the Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad.


    Following the C&P purchase, the main focus was on modernization of the existing plant.  The first diesel switcher was purchased in 1941. The final steam locomotive was purchased in 1947.  In 1949, it was announced that all operations east of Hagerstown would be dieselized.  The 1952 annual report (100th anniversary) featured both steam and diesel in a special logo.  On July 20, 1954, dieselization became complete when class H-9 consolidation #830 was retired.  The last passenger train was run from Elkins to Durbin in April 1959.  In June 1964, the C&O and B&O filed a joint application with the ICC to terminate the 1932 order of a trustee to handle B&O owned WM stock.  From this point on, it was common to see B&O and C&O power on Western Maryland trains.  After the N&W purchased the P&WV in 1964, N&W power was also common on Alphabet Route trains.  Reading power was used on trains coming from Rutherford and heading to Hagerstown as early as 1910.  This practice continued throughout the Western Maryland's history.

    In 1973, the Western Maryland became part of the Chessie System.  It was owned by the C&O and operated by the B&O.  In 1987, it was merged into the C&O which itself became part of CSX transportation.  Much of the Western Maryland's original line has been abandoned.